Archive for the ‘Veil’ Category

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.

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.

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.

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.

Thin Ice

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Shuna lost her job.

Shuna is a slashie like me. No, not a actor slash male model, silly Zoolander fan, blogger slash chef. Pastry chef to be exact. And she recently lost her pastry chef job.

I point this out, not to irritate what is a sensitive situation, but to shed light on the fragility of a pastry chefs job. Our position is a constant walk on thin ice, a weekly prayer that the ice won’t crack and swallow our position altogether.

It is a rare restaurant that can truly afford a pastry chefs salary, particularly outside hotel and restaurant groups, and in the small intimate passion driven restaurants I prefer. Labor costs on high end food run around 40 percent. What that means, is for every dollar that comes in the restaurant, 40 percent of that goes to labor. The goal for food cost is around 25 percent. That leaves a slim 35 percent of the gross income to pay for rent, china, equipment, tables, chairs, electricity, flowers, anything and everything.

And profit? 1 percent is considered successful.

The thing about labor cost, is that it’s flexible. Veil’s kitchen staff of 4 can put out 30 dinners, or 80. It costs the restaurant the same to have those 4 cooks/chefs in the kitchen, but clearly having 80 customers brings the restaurant much much more money. Thus, labor cost goes down the busier the restaurant is.

Equally, the slower the dining room is, the higher labor cost is. To create high end, fine dining it takes the same 4 cooks to run a moderate evening as it does a busy evening. To include a pastry chefs salary into labor cost, a restaurant needs to be busy, or big, or part of a large restaurant group, or a hotel.

So we watch numbers like a hawk. We count how many desserts were sold each night, how many covers we had, what percent of diners chose to have dessert. We keep our own food cost in check. We worry over slow days, weeks, months. We see the ice getting thinner, and the potential of our job slipping through the cracks.

I am fairly lucky, I was trained as a line cook long before I entered into the pastry world. I have versatile skills, which help to validate my salary. To keep my self firmly planted in the kitchen I could prep out the veg station, work the pantry, butcher, or cook on the line.

I could take a hourly wage and work part time. Or take a small salary and work 60 hours a week.

I could work for far less money than I know I could get elsewhere.

And I do, believe me.

I do all these things to work at Veil. I make all these sacrifices to stay out of a restaurant group, out of a hotel, out of a private club, out of large busy restaurants. I thrive in a small intimate kitchen, where quality can be absolutely controlled. I prefer to labor intensely for an owner who I know and like, who’s benefit I can see my work directly effecting. I like the security of personal relationships with all levels of management, who are the people see day in day out, inside and outside the restaurant.

I want to feel connected to the growth and success of the restaurant I work for. I want to feel connected to the customers I cook for.

I could care less about bringing in profit for a corporation. There is absolutely no motivation for me to break my body, work 60 plus hours for people who don’t know me. People who see me as a labor cost, not a person.

So I make sacrifices. I don’t want to be a line cook, but if it lets me stay in the kitchen and create the desserts I do at Veil, then I’ll do it. I don’t want to be broke, but if that’s what it takes to stay in a kitchen of integrity, intimacy, I will.

I do this, because above all, I don’t want to lose my job.

Scratch pancakes

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

I grew up on Bisquick, as I am sure many of us did. Much of the baking my mom did came from a box. Cakes came from no where else, and as April 23rd neared each year my tiny mouth salivated in anticipation of my birthday cake, always cherry chip with pink cherry frosting from the can.

Pancakes came from the same place, a box. So it was quite a revelation when, in high school someone told me her mom made real pancakes, from scratch. I suppose somewhere, I knew pancakes could be made with more than the magic powder in the yellow Bisquick box. Well, logically I could have made the connection, but I never had.

These days, I can hardly fathom not making pancakes from scratch. Bisquick has long since been a part of my pantry, along with other boxes like cake mix and pudding. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the box or those who choose to balance their lives and make their weekend pancakes and birthday cakes from such a source.

However, as my cooking career grew, and I learned to make pancakes from scratch, I learned also that it’s really easy. It’s not that mixing pancakes from scratch is difficult, the box is just really convenient. It can sit in your cupboard for an extended period of time, until the urge for pancakes (or waffles or biscuits or scones or……) strikes. It lies in wait for a simple addition of water and presto! Pancakes.

Pancakes from scratch will require that you have some staple ingredients on hand, flour, sugar, and leavening, and also require your fridge has been stocked with eggs, butter, and milk or buttermilk. Either that or a special trip to collect the list of ingredients.

You also have to measure a handful of ingredients, and sometimes, just after waking and before coffee has fully taken hold, this can be a big effort. But take my word for it, a bonafide coffee addict and someone who is definitely not a morning person, this effort is well worth it.

The flavor of “real” pancakes far surpasses anything made from Bisquick, or any other pancake mix out there. Particularly as you increase the quality of those ingredients mixed in the batter. Organic whole milk, good vanilla, Plugra butter, king arthur flour, rich farm eggs, raw sugar, these all help to make your pancakes, well all your baked goods for that matter, truly stand out.

Currently I am completely taken with a pancake recipe from Veil. When we opened for brunch a couple of months ago (duck confit hash! My buttermilk biscuits in a light sour cream sausage gravy! Killer Bloody Marys and Mimosas!), I was introduced to Ricotta Flapjacks. Moist and rich with ricotta, these flapjacks are lightened with whipped egg whites and seasoned with fresh grated nutmeg. One bite, and I was swooning, dunking the warm spiced disks in the blueberry and star anise compote that is served along side. Fortunately for me, it took making a few pancakes to adjust the griddle properly the first day, and I was a little tipsy, so taken with these flapjacks I was.

These flapjacks welcomed my cyclists today, warm and steaming in tall stacks as they came to breakfast from their early morning core stability class, and I believe more than a few are as taken with these pancakes as I am.

The recipe follows, and makes about 40- 5 inch pancakes, plenty to feed a group. But if you wake up like I do, groggy and not in the mood to measure, melt, separate eggs, whip whites, come over to Veil on Saturday or Sunday and let us make them for you.

Veil’s Ricotta Flapjacks

4 cups flour

1 c sugar

5 tsp bk. pow

1 1/2 tsp bk. soda

1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

1/2 tsp salt

3 c milk

3 c ricotta

4 oz melted butter (one stick)

2 tb. vanilla extract

5 eggs, separated

1. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg together and set aside.

2. In a large bowl mix the milk, ricotta, melted butter, vanilla, and egg yolks until smooth and even.

3. Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture.

4. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter. If you are using an electeric mixer be careful not to overwhip the whites.

5. Drop about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake in a skillet or griddle preheated at a medium low heat and lightly greased.

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???

Dine Around Seattle

Monday, November 5th, 2007

It’s that time of year again, folks. Sure, time for holidays, nesting, hot cocoa, and all kinds of cold weather behavior. But it’s time again for Seattle’s biggest restaurant promotion. You knew it last march as “25 for 25″, but things have changed a bit.

For starters, the promotion is now being referred to by the public relations company that hosts it as “dine around Seattle”. (It may take me a while to stop saying 25 for 25). But the spirit of the promotion is the same, a cheap 3 course menu in Seattle’s favorite restaurants.

The numbers now total to 30 restaurants, and the 3 course menu is now 30 dollars, making it “30 for 30.” In addition to last years restaurants diners can now enjoy this promotion with the “bold original kitchen artistry” at BOKA in downtown Seattle, the Andean cuisine of Mixtura on the Eastside, old world Italian at Barolo, neighborhood dining at the 35th street bistro in Fremont, and visit little old me Veil.

The best change for me is their independent website. Now fully managed by the PR firm that runs it, I can fianlly use more than 50 characters to describe my desserts, and have the capability of changing them online during the month long event. In the past, a truncated description was given 3 months before the event. With no flexibility, the online menu often didn’t reflect what we were actually serving, as we changed things seasonally or according to our own whims.

You can guess that much of the kitchen banter has centered around this promotion. One topic has been Seattle’s “dine around” being born of Manhattan’s “restaurant week.” Our chef de cuisine spent 4 years with Jean George, and participated in the promotion there. Much like here, it becomes a balancing act of cost effective but delicious and impressive cuisine. Each dish must be quick to cook and plate to accommodate the high volume of orders, but look polished and beautiful as though the kitchen is cooking just for you. Each customer must be given extensive service, but not so much that it denies the very full dining room any attention. They must stay long enough to have a completely enjoyable meal, but finish and leave in time for the two other parties that have booked the table later in the evening. It’s a true exercise in efficiency. While many restaurants experience this kind of volume year round, it brings a flood of business to the rest of us on traditionally slow nights, sunday through thursday.

The irony, we all joked, is that this is the only time of the year when the cooks can actually afford to eat in many of these restaurants. Let me remind you that well paid cooks made about twelve dollars an hour, the starting wage is nine. If you are making fifteen dollars an hour you are either in a large corporate chain, or in a position of management, (or very lucky.) So the cooks at a fine dining establishment, where the average diner spends one hundred and fifty dollars per person for food and wine, simply can’t afford to eat there. After taxes, a meal at the restaurant we work at will cost us roughly two days pay. So you can bet we take advantage of this sweet deal.

Last year I had a meal at Nishino, a japanese restaurant way out of my price range, and at Yarrow Bay Grill, where the entire promotional menu was less expensive than a single entre from their dinner menu. This year I am planning on checking out Cascadia, a high priced establishment in Belltown that I have been curious about for some time now.

There has been some controversy over this promotion, voiced publicly by local restaurateur and chef Ethan Stowell. While the promotion brings large crowds to the participating restaurants during otherwise slow months, it leaves those restaurants not participating even slower. While I have seen some restaurants not officially participating in the event offer the same menu at the same price, they don’t benefit from any of the p.r. efforts which direct would be diners to those featured in printed and online publicity.

Veil is participating for the first time this year, and we have been tweaking the menu all month. I have just finished the development of a rosemary marshmallow enriched with brown butter for our celery root soup, and finally set my warm almond soup, a dish I had been struggling with as it was not born of my own conception.

Our menu offerings for the first 2 weeks follow. In two weeks time we will likely change things a bit, offering a few new dishes. In particular, a butternut chiffon will be entering the dessert menu. A chic version of pumpkin pie, a butternut custard is lightened with whipped cream, and set over a chocoalte hazelnut crust. It’s light and creamy, and lacks the slight bitterness I associate with pumpkin itself.

STARTERS
Celery Root Soup, sage marshmallow and balsamic vinegar
Roasted Beet Salad, hazelnut, herbs, and grapefruit confit
Hard Shell Squash Risotto, mascarpone and parmesan cheeses, chive oil

ENTREES
Drake Duck Confit , root vegetable hash, sherry vinegar and caramelized vegetable sauce
Ruby Trout, roasted yams, green apple, bacon, apple cider puree
Roasted Abalone Mushroom, curry potato pave and wild mushroom puree

DESSERTS
Salted Peanut Butter Ice Cream, cocoa nib crunch, milk chocolate cremeux
Chocolate Fondant Cake, bittersweet caramel truffle, Cracker Jack
Warm Cream of Almond Soup, ceylon cinnamon, roasted pears, orange blossom cream

Slow go

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Starting a new job was once a fun exciting venture in my eyes.  I thrilled at meeting new people and learning new things.  Lately, however, I have come to realize how much I dislike starting new jobs.  Call me a homebody, but I like the familiarity of a kitchen I have worked in for an extended period of time.

The first week is bad, but it’s the second and third week that are the worst for me.  In week one you are run through everything at least once, forgiving yourself if it takes an hour to complete a task.  But week two and three I really start to struggle.  Each task still involves hurdles, takes way too long, and I stop giving myself so much room for failure.

Just weighing out a recipe seems to be painful.  Each ingredient must be found, and can sometimes involve quite a hunt.  I knew where the sugar was last week, but I used all of it and don’t know where we store the back up, if there is a back up, and all the while scold myself for not having enough forethought to check on this to get a bag on the next delivery.  Then I go through the same process looking for butter.  And do we even have pine nuts?  Should I bother looking or just run to the store?

These past few weeks I have been spending most of my time doing research and development.  There is not a big need for my presence in the kitchen during service yet, so I have been coming in early in the morning with the kitchen all to myself, and testing ideas.  Honestly, it’s not something I have really done before.  Sure, I’d bake a test cake or two at Eva if putting a late summer fruit coffee cake on the menu.  But the humility and simplicity of the dishes I served there didn’t need anything close to research and development.  I just knew that serving that coffee cake with caramelized cinnamon ice cream would work, and a simple fruit sauce would easily dot the plate.

These days, however, the dishes on the menu are a big step away from the my first tries.  The concepts stay true in my head, but finding a starting point is a bit more difficult.  We are playing with a peanut butter and jelly tart that started out as a dish for a trial at a different restaurant.  I made the same dish, which had undergone a few adjustments, and the chef and I tasted it.  Then we tore it apart.

The dish originally began as a sandy crumb crust with a strawberry pate de fruit strip set over the top.  It was garnished with peanut butter powder, peanut butter ice cream, fresh strawberries, and a brown sugar anglaise.  In it’s 4th incarnation, the dish is now based around a concord grape curd, set over a peanut sablee ground with peanut oil and frozen to set.  The peanut butter powder remains, but the ice cream was forced to stay in it’s original place on the menu, sitting atop a chocolate sauce and some crunchy peanut butter fuilletine crumble.  The new plate is dotted with concord grape poached sour cherries and muscavado gel.

I tested a few different ice creams, like brown bread ice cream made with honey and toasted bran, puffed wheat sorbet which tasted exactly like honey smacks, and toast ice cream, which tasted like toast.  A generous amount of time went into balancing each of these frozen components, extracting the flavor the title described in a tasty manner.  Each of them was pushed off the plate after tasting, not being found to enhance the dish as much as we wanted.  Finally, we agreed that the plate didn’t really need an ice cream at all.  We would let the concord grape curd be the center of the plate, and rather than make an obvious tie to the peanut butter and jelly concept, we would list the components and let the diner make the conclusion.

This dish should appear on the menu soon.  Right now I am still working on the texture of the concord grape curd so it is stable enough to handle.  No simple curd would work here, I want to be able to slice the curd and transfer the entire piece to the strip of sablee.  I watched Alex do this at WD-50, and I know what he used to stablize it.  However, the company told me that I would have to order a 50 pound bag if I wanted a sample.  So I am working on something that will work for us.

So the 3 weeks I have been hard at work haven’t amounted to much that you can see on the menu.  Working for what feels like failure after failure can be daunting.  I am sure I’ll feel differently when these dishes are on the menu, and I can smile and put all my effort into recreating them, knowing they are exactly what I want them to be.