Friday, August 26, 2005

Berry good

As the summer days grow warmer, the berries grow in abundance.

First come the strawberries, sun ripened and too delicate to transport. But no bother, we can keep them right here, and enjoy their sugary sweet goodness while they last. Then as the days are at their longest, the raspberries begin to become fragrant on the vine. Delicate and perfumed, they have a touch of elegance. Blackberries enter the scene when the warm august days linger and an evening walk along almost any neighborhood road can become a picking opportunity. They are deep, almost musty, but taste so good that the stains their dark juices leave on fingers and mouths are quickly overlooked. Labor day brings two tiny cousins to us, the blueberry and the huckleberry. These are sometimes mistaken for each other, but vastly different flavors distinguish the two. The blueberry is sweet, delicate, with a tender skin and very few seeds. The Huckleberry has a bold flavor that hits loud sweet and sour notes, has exactly 10 seeds inside, and a thicker skin that offers just enough resistance for each berry to burst between the teeth.

Here are two summer berry desserts that were used to showcase these summer delights.

First was on the menu in late July when the second cycle or strawberries came, raspberries were perfect, and the first blackberries were ripening in the long summer days. The there berries are left intact and piled on top of a lemon cream tart. The filling is made of a basic lemon curd with a twist on the method. Lemon curd is commonly made with plenty of butter, often added at the end to a hot lemon-egg-sugar mix whisked over a bain marie until thick. The butter melts while it is whisked in, leaving a glossy, translucent curd. This curd is cooled to 140 degrees before it is mounted with the butter. The butter is added slowly while the curd spins in a blender. After all the butter is incorporated, the blender is left to run for 5 minutes. This creates a texture that is creamy, light, and very delicate while the flavor is unchanged. The sauce underneath was an ever changing mix of berry puree's depending on availability.

The second dessert was the market menu feature last week, a "Rainbow-berry" sorbet. This was a sorbet terrine featuring the last of the seasons strawberries and raspberries, and the first of the seasons huckleberries. The sorbets were intense representations of the berries they came from. Sweetened just enough to let the berry flavors scream through, each berries individual characteristics were allowed to shine. To garnish the sorbets, we took a miniature version of a dessert that is commonly associated with berries, the shortcake. To the side is a little buttermilk shortcake filled with dense vanilla whipped cream, and scattered across the plate are fresh blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries. Nothing compliments berries like more berries!

September is coming, the kids are going back to school, and I am excited for the prospect of autumn fruits like apples, pears, and plums. But before I can invite them into my kitchen, I had to say this proper good bye to the berries. Until next year.......

Friday, August 19, 2005

All About Nectarines

I should properly title my menu "all about nectarines" this week. Merv, our restaurants wonderful friend from Yakima arrives weekly with boxes of corn picked that morning, peaches ripened on the tree, perfumed melons, and even the zucchini that won him a ribbon at the fair. This past week he has brought two boxes of perfect nectarines along with the peaches I had ordered. So use them I must, even if that means a menu that tips the balance I try to preserve with 3 featured nectarine items.

The first is the buttermilk panna cotta with a fresh compote of nnectarines, peaches, little wild strawberries, and little lemon cookies. The panna cotta is sweet and lean, and has what Gordon Ramsey calls a "sexy wobble". This makes the texture light and delicate. The word compote brings cooked fruit to mind for me, but in this case, the fruit is macerated in a syrah syrup. This adds a very subtle spicy undertone to the fruit while leaving all the intensity of the tree ripe flavor. The pale pink syrup is brushed on the plate first to resemble a water color. There was no way to contain the syrup from running out of the compote, so I just went with it, "washing" the plate with it.

The second dessert is a frozen nectarine parfait. The nectarine looses much of it's intensity when pureed, becoming a more subtle, palatable version of the fire works that a bite of fresh nectarine dispatches in your mouth. So this moderate flavor is added to a soft rich frozen parfait. It is a very delicate presentation of flavor. The top is spread with a fan of very thin sliced nectarine. The flavor is all that a nectarine should be, adding a contrast to the more subtle parfait. A quenelle of whipped creme fraiche flavored with almond is placed next to it, and crisp sweet almond cookies add texture. The cookie is made from a dough intended to be the crust of a linzer tart. It is spiced lightly with cinnamon and rum. The texture is amazingly tender due to an old Austrain trick of hard boiling the eggs before incorporating them to the dough.

The third dessert is Clafouti. This menu spot was being filled by a peach cobbler which I was running out of nightly. While the word "cobbler" was a hot seller, the topping I was using was not ideal for the delicate texture and flavor of the fruit. I tested a few different styles of topping finally drawing back to a dish we used to make at Lampreia. This is the ultimate refinement of the cobbler, fitting for Chef Carsberg whose style is pure, minimalistic, and entirely focused on flavor. The batter something like a sponge cake folded with whipped cream, spread on top of the fruit, and baked to rise above the fruit. The texture is as delicate as the flavor, and truly lets the nectarines shine from below. The fruit is sliced thin like leaves, and tossed with just a little sugar to bring out the juices which then reduce and condense during the baking process. This is served strait from the oven with a scoop of plain-jane vanilla ice cream, which melts just a little by the time it gets to the table.

This offers 3 different moods of the nectarine. The panna cotta is lean, fresh, spicy, and clean. The parfait fills the role of my frozen dessert, showing a softer, more luxurious side to the fruit. And the clafouti is my only hot dessert which is warm, comforting, and very familiar.

Seasons will change, and the abundance of anything fresh will dwindle. Feast or famine, so they say.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Taste Tea

I read all these fun blogging posts in which a theme is given by one blog to the other blogs, and then on one day, they all blog on said theme. I have never caught on early enough to play along. There is some current flowing through the sea of blogs, and I am still wading on the shore. But none the less, I am inspired to share my thoughts on the most recent of these themes....Taste Tea.

Summer isn't summer for me without the Arnold Palmer. This tributary drink, a blend of half iced tea, half lemonade, was said to be the golfers favorite beverage. I was first introduced to it while working at Rays Drive in.

Rays Drive in was a hold over from the 50's type burger stand with hand made fish and chips, huge cheese burgers with names like "the double double", hand cut fries, thick milk shakes in a rainbow of colors, and one of the last sources for a real green river soda. The crew was composed of my high school friends, and my sister libby and her group of friends. Nostalgia screams from those memories for all of us.

We allways had pitchers of iced tea and lemonade side by side in the reach in cooler. And as the temperature outside hit 80, the temperature inside that little shack hit 110. Nothing tasted better than the mixing of those two classic summer beverages in that heat. And since, nothing has quenched my summer thirst like an Arnold Palmer.

The recipe is simple. One part cold brewed black tea, one part lemonade.

There is no need to sweeten the tea, the lemonade takes care of that. Brewing tea without boiling water, or sun tea, is not an uncommon method to extract the flavor from the leaves. The reason this is a preferable method for brewing, is that it produces a cleaner flavor. Tea contains tannins like so many things, and in the heat of the boiling water, these tannins are released creating a bitter flavor. Through a slower infusion, these tannins are diminished. A little lesson from Hestons Atomic Kitchen.

So as I sit in this little mother in law apartment that is allways hotter inside than outside, I quench my thirst just as I learned to do so many years ago..... with the help of Arnold Palmer.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The V-word

My sister lives with them, Theis HATES them, and the donut shop across the street from my restaurant is run by them. VEGANS.

Last month, I was invited to share the first meal my sister cooked for the co-op she lived in. It was there, over a bowl of beet soup, that I managed to make a grown man wince and shift uncomfortably. I was sharing a story of butchering whole pidgons and how sometimes when you'd chop off the head there would still be bird feed in the throat. This is when my sister so kindly informs me, "um, Dana, you know this is a vegan house?" I looked up to sharp glances and decided I would save the pigs head terrine story for later. Since that day the V-word has been coming up constantly.

The best thing to come of this recurrance is Mighty-O, the vegan donut shop across from my work. A donut snob I recently spoke to scorned the chewy texture caused by the soy flour, the greasy crunchy outside, and worst of all, the palm kernal oil they are fried in. But I am coming out of the closet here, I LOVE these vegan donuts for just those reasons. Maybe it is that I havent had a donut in 2 years...... but I might have to give into the fact that i prefer the vegan option here.

When I asked the girl at the counter what made their vegan donuts different from the way a regular donut was made, she gave me a pained look and said, "uh... they are made without using any animal products." The "Duh" was implied...... I said, "yes, I understand what vegan means..." A book on the counter told me that a soy flour was used to replace the texture given by eggs, and that palm kernal oil was used for the cooking instead of an animal based one. Beyond that, I may never know more. But I will be back for another french toast donut with maple frosting and chopped peanuts, or a selection of cuties like these.

Family Meal

A few months ago a family meal would have found me on picknick benches on a patio out back of a kitchen, surrounded by other cooks all scarfing down their dinners, stretching the 15 minutes away from their stations to its fullest. And after 16 hours a day in a place far away from anything familiar, the bonds between cooks do grow to a kind of "family".

But this sunday family meal meant for me just that. My family. To celebrate nothing more than my mother herself, her 2 brothers and one sister visited seattle and we shared a meal at the restaurant I work at. This meal stretched into 3 hours with laughter and stories of my moms youth in New Jersey.

From left is my mom herself, Aunt Mary, Auntie Ellen, Diane, becca, her BOY friend Jared, then across the table in the back is uncle bill, my dad, Russell, me, and uncle tom. The 2 missing faces are those of my sisters Sarah and Libby. Libby is living a euro-life in germany, and we were sorry to have missed her. Sarah was there for a little while but had to leave early for a 9 pm appointment. What kind of appointment takes place at 9 at night? Duh, a tattoo.....

Leaving the comraderie i felt with those other cooks was very difficult. But I came home to family.

Monday, August 01, 2005

It's all in the presentation

I had a rough day saturday. It seemed that I was going to be forced to surrender to the day when Russell suprised me with a home made meal. My favorite cheese, some hummous, and crackers. And when I saw the trouble he went to with the plate presentation i could do nothing but smile at his sweetness, and let a little cheer into my day.

"When you use foods that are all the same color, it is difficult. That's why I chose the colorful plate." Said the chef of the night on his mind set going into this plate.

The sentiment and smile this was served with make it a 3 star meal for me.