Sunday, July 31, 2005

refined


Do you ever look at an old picture of yourself, and laugh while remarking, "i thought i was looking good..." Maybe it was the old "Racheal" from friends hair cut, or a old torn flannel that smelled of teen spirit.

For me this often comes from pictures of plates I have done. So every time I look at my blog there sits one of those pictures.... The moon rock looking pizza thing of apricots and cheesecake. I only made it once, (twice) before the obvious refinement was clear. While it looked clownish, it had a lot of potential flavor wise. Here the cheese cake is baked in the bottom. After this is chilled, a layer of pureed apricot is set on top. Not only is the presentation much better, but i was better able to controll the flavor of the apricots. The poached apricots never addopted enough sweetness from their liquid, so here I am able to ballance their natural acidity with sugar. And for depth I added, of course, the flavor of their pits.

So this may be more for my own redemption than anything. But after all, it's my blog!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Noyaux


One of the most amazing culinary discoveries for me was the kernel inside an apricot pit. While in highschool, I had read that peach pie could go from ordinary to extrodinary with just a little extra effort of extracting the almond inside the peach pits and adding it to the pie. I was young and impatient and never made the effort. But then a few years later, I was eating an apricot the pit fell apart, and there it was. The hidden gem I had read about. I cut it in half, and put it to my nose, and had one of those moments cooks have. You know, those "holy shit, food can be this amazing???" moments. The smell of a fragrant almond flooded my senses.

While at The Fat Duck I learned that this smell is attributed to a molecule called Benzaldahyde. The French have come up with a much more romantic name for this flavor, Noyaux. This is pronounced Nwa-yoh. Noyaux is the French word for clingstone fruits. And when spoken in terms of flavor, it refers to the almond flavor inside the stones themselves......The heart of these fruits.

For the market menu this week, I was able to feature this amazing flavor. I made a Noyaux Bavarian, and served it with a Bing cherry soup and peaches. The cherries and peaches both come from a nice farmer named Merv who has a clingstone orchard in Yakima. We had the last of his seasons cherries to use, and had just received the first of his amazing peaches. So to feature both of them, I tied them together with the flavor that lies at both their hearts.

I have honestly never tasted an almond that tastes like "almond" flavoring. So when I was forced to refer to my Noyaux Bavarian as Almond Bavarian on the menu, I was uncomfortable. But we had to present them with a flavor they could identify. However, the almond flavor inside noyaux is so much cleaner, lighter, and deeper than the ammeretto flavor that the word almond brings to mind. Luckily the waitstaff was as fascinated as I am with this flavor and were excited to use the story of my peach pits as a talking point with the customers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A rhubarb legacy

The previous pastry chef has left me her legacy.... gallons of rhubarb icecream base. In anticipation of her absence, she stocked the fridge for a smooth transition. But the amount of rhubarb icecream she left is daunting.

My challenge has been to incorporate it into my menu. It has been in a transient state, frequently shifted from one place to another. It started in its original composition as a scoop of icecream with mixed berry compote and a white chocolate chunk cookie. Then I was instructed to express my own personal visions of this blatant flavor.

First it became a frozen terrine, layered with a deep burgundy, spicy rhubarb puree. The icecream itself is very sweet and light in rhubarb flavor, so the puree made a nice contrast. But its failing was in that the different frozen textures came apart easily and weren't easy for the diners to eat.

From there the puree in the frozen terrine was replaced with apricot icecream. The layers of two icecreams had a nicer texture together, and the pastels looked nice next to each other. This was served with a yogurt cream flavored with a concentration of the poaching liquid that the apricots for the icecream were poached in. The poaching liquid tastes really good. It was enhanced with the pits of the apricots and vanilla pods. I am tempted to add some water and ice and drink it.

The next transition this rhubarb is taking is aside an apricot cheese cake tart. I have seen a new trend in cheesecake on other menu's. I am seeing cheesecakes that stray from the sweetness we are used to. The market street grill has a goat cheese cake much of this vein. So my take on it was a 10 inch tart, first filled with orbs of halved poached apricots. The empty space is filled with an unsweetened cheesecake batter made mostly of creme friache. The apricots will provide a balancing sweetness to the cheese. I usually try to avoid large cakes and tarts, opting instead for individual desserts. I think this makes the dining experience much more personal as that dessert was made just for your plate. Not just a big random dessert that you get a slice off of. But with this tart, the individual tart with one poached apricot in the center looked like an over easy egg. So I opted for the large tart as each slice will bisect many apricots. Next to this will sit the rhubarb icecream.

And its next incarnation when apricots fall out of season (or when I feel like it) will be between two soft thin gingerbread cookies to make a nostalgic looking icecream sandwich. I do enjoy an icecream sandwich, but my pet peeve is when you cant bite through the cookie without the icecream squeezing out the sides. The cookie has to be tender while in the frozen state. I think gingerbread often has this quality and the flavor is more what I like rhubarb with than other fruits. And as always, I have a love for all things nostalgic, and all things cute.

So goes the story of this rhubarb icecream. Round and round it goes, where it stops..........Nobody knows.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The tables have turned

I sat on the other side of the line last night, enjoying dinner in a restaurant as a diner rather than a cook. Russell and I went to a restaurant in Ballard called Market Street Grill. This restaurant is fittingly named, as it is on Market Street. The restaurant recently hired a chef, Blake Caldwell, who has spent some time as a sous chef for Thomas Keller at Bouchon. The restaurant was recommended by a few people, and my curiosity was piqued as to what someone of the Thomas Keller vein was doing with a restaurant in Seattle.....Not even Seattle.....Ballard.

Ballard, a community that is home to movements to secede away from the metropolitan city of Seattle into itself, to preserve its industrial core disallowing urban growth, and has bumperstickers that say "visualize Ballard". So what is a chef that left to seek refinement in Napa under an American culinary icon doing there. I had to know.

The restaurant was nice. We sat at a nice booth (Russell said he likes privacy, but he really just wanted to play footsies). On the way in, Russ said, "I want to start with the cheese plate. Not the one on the dessert menu, but as a starter." He had obviously done his homework on the internet that afternoon. I was impressed that he took such a proactive approach to our dining experience.

So the cheese plate was our starter. It consisted of 3 cheeses, Le Chevrot, Cana de Oveja, Fourme d'Ambert, marcona almonds, sliced grannie smith apple, and some sliced bread. The presentation was clean and impressive. The apple was sliced super thin like I like it, but obviously on the same board they used to chop an onion, which I don't like. And the bread had a very nice chewy yet tender, dense yet light quality. And I am the type to pass on bread rather than eat a mediocre loaf.

There were other things on the menu I would have liked to try as a starter. There was a crispy duck confit canneloni that looked good. When I told James I had eaten there his eyes got big and he said, "ooohhh, did you try the pate?" I would have liked to have tried the counrty style pork pate, garnished simply with little cornichons.....I saw one walk past me. But the Pork Belly slow roasted with lentils and cippolini onions would have been my choice if cheese wasn't taking the number one slot. I developed a dear love for pork belly while in England. Well, good pork belly.

So all this day dreaming about the things I didn't have..... What did we eat? I had a lamb sausage, made and stuffed in house. It was served over grilled eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and onions. These were cut into small, precise pieces that didn't suffer from a long drawn out cooking time that can make that common combination of vegies soggy and taste so bad. And off to the side was a little puddle of a balsamic reduction that had been mellowed out with some grain mustard. The flavors were all right on.

Russell had halibut, seared, and served atop a pile of wilted spinach. This was in a bowl with a grain mustard creme friache sauce poured around. The creme friache tasted amazing, but was runny and didn't adhere at all to the rest of the food. I don't know if this was the point, but I wanted to eat the sauce on the fish and I didn't have a spoon. All pickiness aside, both Russell and I really liked it. The flavors were clean, simple, and precise. As was all the plating.

For dessert we had a peach cobbler with vanilla icecream. The top of the cobbler was really good. It was soft, dense, almost cake like rather than a crumble or a biscuit. It reminded me of the "clafouti" Lampreia used to do. I liked this take on the cobbler better than most I have seen. We also had a tart that was filled with a lemony creme friache, and topped with fresh raspberries. Over this was a streaking of white chocolate sauce. The white chocolate was my favorite part. It was underlaid with an anise of some sort. This gave it a depth that white chocolate most often lacks, and created some warm tones while the temperature was cold. I really liked it.

Now I only wish I had not forgot my camera. Soon, I will learn to take it everywhere.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Market menu




One of the joys of my job is the weekend market menu. This 3 course menu centers around ingredients found at the local farmers markets, highlighting local producers and the best they have to offer. The best part being that the third course is dessert.

I have allways found that I am more creative when a few restrictions are set up. I like to work within some structure. So having to work with what I find at the market is a lot of fun for me.

And I have to say that the fruit, honey, yogurt, and nuts that I have seen are amazing. The farmers often bring them in themselves, having had a relationship with the restaurant for years. And they bring us their pride and joy. I was often told at Lampreia that when a chef was truly passionate you could feel or see their own energy coming out of their plates. When you pour that much of yourself into what you do, it resonates from your creations. This is true of Scott Carsberg's work and true of the small producers too. The food they bring resonates with the pride they created it with.

For the menu this week I got to use plums from James's (The other half of Eva) garden. He didn't think that his yard was certified organic, but assured me that they were grown without the use of pesticides and with an all natural fertilizer provided by Hadley, their dog. They have a really amazing deep flavor, but no texture. Really just sweet juicy pulp under a tart skin. So clearly I was going to have to puree them. So to feature them on the menu I made a plum caramel. I couldnt believe how great the flavor was. Using a caramel to sweeten the plum puree instead of sugar added a deep, luxurious, rich flavor. And it made a vibrant, glossy color.

The caramel was flanked by four mounds of mousse I made out of a goats milk yogurt from the farmers market that was sweetened with some of the plum caramel and stiffened with a little home made creme friache (which is allways thicker than the store bought variety). This proved to be a challenge as the goats milk yogurt is very runny on its own. The color was a pale rose and very striking against the deep translucent plum caramel. Then I hid each mound from the caramel with super thin leaves made out of honey tuilles. They added a crisp texture, a golden color, and a sharp contrasting shape to the softness of the mousse and sauce.

The best thing about the market menu is that I am guarenteed an audience. So I can push the limits just a touch. And i get to do this each week!! How much fun is that!!

So, if anyone has a plum tree out back and you can't figure out what to do with all those plums, I HIGHLY recomend this plum caramel. Put it on icecream, inside german pancakes, on french toast, mix it with yogurt...... I based this off a recipe from Alice Waters. I changed the ratios to accomodate the taste of the plums I was using and to achieve the flavor profile I wanted.
1 pound plums
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup water

1. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones.
2. Cook the plums in their own juice for 10 minutes or untill they are tender. If there isnt enough juice, add a little water.
3. Let the plums cool, and puree them with the cooking liquid. Pass through a fine mesh strainer. 4. Make the caramel. Combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook untill caramelized.
5. Remove the caramel from heat and add 1/3 cup water. STAND BACK. this splatters much more than adding cream. When you can get close, stir the caramel untill even.
6. Return to the heat and stir in the plum puree. The caramel will clump up on the bottom, so bring it back up to temperature and stir to disolve the chunks. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Tools and toys

While many chefs are exploring new toys for the kitchen like centrifuges, vac pac machines, water baths, I am begining to enjoy toys that kitchens have been using for years. Toys like kitchen aid mixers and roubot coups were vacant from the last kitchen i worked in. We did every thing by hand, being instructed to "feel" everything we worked with, to put your self into the food. So I learned to manipulate things without the aid of kitchen appliances. Just me, and a whisk.

While it was a valuable lesson to learn to lean on your own elbow grease, I am now learning the value of machine assistance.

The robot coup has been my best friend lately. It chops nuts better than I can and in about 1/20th of the time. And for my short doughs, it works the dough before the butter has a chance to soften giving me doughs that are amazing to work with. When short dough is made by hand the butter has to be brought to a workable temperature. When the dough comes together it doesnt hold together as well, is fragile, not as tender when baked, and simply, a pain in the freekin ass.

The kitchen aid may never replace a bowl and whisk for making a simple whipped cream for me. But for making a cake, it is hard to beat. Not only does it do the job in half the time, but it frees my hands up for multi tasking. And kitchen work is all about multi tasking.

Not all this may seem a bit naive. I am sure I have just elated over things that every house wife and culinary student consider the basics. So why is a professional exclaiming joy for something so ellementary? I guess I stumbled onto this late in life, but will never take these toys for granted.

I know the ballance between man and machine.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

New Life

I, the same girl, have returned to the same town I have allways lived in, to a life that is completely new. It feels so good to be home too.

New life fact number one. I am engaged!! Russell proposed to me this weekend. I couldnt be happier!!! We joked that I would announce his retirement from bachelorhood on my blog. My sister sarahs reaction was..."Yeah, of course I am thrilled for you, my only fear is that you are entering the adult world, and I cant come yet!!" And to the friends I haven't announced this to yet, well, lets just hope you are too busy with your own lives to read my silly blog.

New life fact number two. I have a new and wonderful job. I am the pastry chef at Eva restaurant in greenlake. The chef Amy is great, and has given me free reign over the dessert menu, encouraging me to express myself through it. I have to say, it's kinda nice to work with a woman. And the best part..... We share an obsession for those tiny cute little bowls from the asian markets and I get to plate with them as I wish!!! This is an amazing challenge maintaining a menu and doing all the developement and it is satisfying me deeply. I LOVE being in controll of myself and my own education. And for the first time in almost 6 years, I have friday and saturday nights off!!!!!!! WOAH, the value of this is beyond words. I will write more soon about the things I have been doing. Its kinda fun.

New life fact number three. My hair is not short anymore. Well, its kinda short. But not that super short pixy thing i was sporting for 2 years. Finally, I can tuck it behind my ears and put most of it in a pony tail. And I dont have to over style it to avoid looking manly!! I feel like a girl again.

New life fact number 4. I have a new car. Well, Russell and I have a new car. So this means I have car payments. From a gal who has only ever paid 700 for a car, this is huge. The car doesnt even have a license plate yet. Car payments, new car smell, a car that starts every time you turn the key, no strange noises...... Its a Subaru outback sporty wagon. Kinda a soccer mom car. Or a lesbo wagon according to becca who just told me I spelled Subaru wrong. she said it starts with an L, suggesting the spelling Lesbaru. Russell calls it the girlfriend grocery getter to save face when he drives a non-WRX up to a bike race. I think I am going to get matching sunglasses. If you go all out and buy a brand new car you might as well accessorize, right???

So, same me, same town, same friends (boy did I miss them!), new life.....

Hmmm...I am starting to feel like a grown up.