Sunday, October 30, 2005

25 for 25

Each year the Seattle dining community is treated to a promotion called "25 for 25". This involves 25 restaurants featuring a 3 course dinner for 25 dollars. The promotion is available sunday through thursday and is well worth a weekday evening.

Many in the restaurant industry mock it, but the dining community loves it. The affordability of the menu tempts diners, introducing them to restaurants they haven't had a chance to try yet. They are able to experience the restaurant or chef at it's best, trying a starter, a main course, and getting a taste of the pastry chef's creations too as dessert is included.

Eva will be participating for the first time. This also marks the first time I have participated in this event. So what does this mean to me? It means to me that all the diners choosing the menu will have dessert. Lots of dessert.


The dessert menu for Eva is fairly current, but abbreviated. So I will expand on my menu here!


Autumn Fruit Crisp...... This is a crisp made from apples, pears, and quince. The fruit was roasted to bring out the individual flavors, then tossed with honey and a hint of cinnamon before being covered with an brown butter oat strussel. The quince brings a flavor of distinction to the richness of the pears and tartness of the apples. It is served warm with a scoop of soft brown sugar ice cream.

Frozen Honey Parfait with Darjeeling Tea Poached Pears and Honey-Kissed Lavender Shortbread..... This parfait is made with just 4 ingredients; honey, vanilla bean, egg yolks, and whipped cream. The clarity and focus of the honey is brought out by the vanilla seeds. The texture is light, creamy, and delicate. It is served with Bosc pears that have been poached in Darjeeling tea, and two lavender shortbread cookies that were baked with an indentation on the top. This small crater is filled with a tiny pool of wildflower honey just before serving.

Dark Chocolate Tart with Caramel Pecans and Chocolate Whipped Cream....... (the focus of my previous post) A rich almond and cocoa sable crust is filled with deep chocolate ganache and crowned with caramel coated pecans. Along side is a light creamy chocolate whipped cream.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with maple CremeFraiche and Roasted Pepitos......A thick dense cheesecake that highlights the Long Island cheese wheel Pumpkin. This pumpkin is thicker, more orange in color, and holds more flavor than a sugar pumpkin. The crust uses crushed gingersnaps that are made with a hefty dose of molasses and 4 inches of fresh ginger. Atop this cheesecake is whipped maple creme fraiche. Pepitos, a large shelled pumpkin seed popular in Mexico, have been made into a brittle. Fresh nutmeg is grated over the pepitos while still warm so it adheres.

Lemon Cream Tart with Wild Cascade Mountian Huckleberry Sauce...... This lemon tart is filled with a lemon cream rather than curd. No cream is added, rather the method incorporates ingredients in a manner that creates a creamy thick texture. It is set inside a pate sucre (or what I call my "perfect plain jane tart dough) that is enhanced with the juice and zest of a lemon. In the class I just taught we discussed that a perfect lemon tart rarely needs much garnish. So I limited this to one simple accompaniment, a wild huckleberry sauce that is sweet, robust, and a vivid purple.


Aged Sardinian Goat Cheese Pannacotta with Hand Made Crackers and Wildflower Honey.....For those who prefer a cheese course to a dessert, I offer a savory pannacotta. This is a delicately rich pannacotta made of Panteleo, a sardinian goat cheese, creme fraiche, and cream. The cheese is hard and aged for a year, the taste is a bit salty, but very nutty. The two different hand made crackers are a tender flaky aniseeed cracker and a crisp cinnamon cornmeal cracker that shatters on your teeth. Wildflower honey is drizzled to order adding the ever appealing sweetness that cheese loves.

I have made my reservations at Yarrow Bay Grill. I am excited to see pastry chef Jessica Campbell's offerings, and Amy speaks highly of the chef Vicky McCaffrey's talent. The pair opened the Waterfront. I had the opportunity to eat there the first week it was opened as my father built the structure (the old real world Seattle pier!). It was the first time I had seen a dessert menu with such creativity and passion. I was awed by the chai tea souffle cake and the petit four plate.

I remember looking at the dessert menu, seeing a girls name at the bottom, and thinking to myself, I am going to have my name on a menu someday.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Darker Side of Pecan

I just discovered that I am a week late for Sugar high friday. I thought it was the last friday of the month and have been saving this prepared post for the big day. Well, better late than never. The theme this month is "the dark side" refering to chocolate.

I chose to twist a pecan pie, turn it dark so to speak. The best part of the pecan pie, the sugary caramel wrapped pecans were preserved. Rather than filling a pie they crown a deep chocolate tart.

The base of this tart is a sable crust rich with ground almonds and dark with the bitter quality of cocoa powder. The chocolate in the filling is treated simply as a ganache ballanced with just enough cream and butter to hold it still at room temperature. It is truly like eating about 12 chocolate truffles all at once.

The pecans are toasted to bring out their sweet, almost maple notes. While still warm, they are rolled in a deep amber caramel just after the cream is stirred into the caremelized sugar. As the caramel comes down to room temp, it is stirred occasionally, bathing the pecans. The lustered pecans are spooned on top of the tart when it is firm enough to hold their weight.

Along side is none other than more chocolate, but in a very light creamy presentation of the flavor. An oval quenelle of chocolate whipped cream sits aside the tart. To make this melted chocolate is added with a little sugar to scalded cream then let to chill over night. It whips faster and denser than plain jane whipped cream with a texture that is velvety. It might as well be a mousse if you ask me.

So what began as a pecan pie became a presentation of 3 moods of dark chocolate; The bitterness of the cocoa in the crust, the ultra rich ganache, and the light creamy chocolate whipped cream.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Guest Chef Night at Fare Start



This past thursday Amy McCray, the chef I work with, and I had the good fortune of working with the students and volunteers at Fare Start. Amy, the guest chef of the evening, featured a truly "Eva" menu highlighting locally produced Cameo Apples, hazelnuts, pears, pork, and oregon blue cheese. For dessert I provided the deep chocolate rice pudding with caramelized rice crispies. This was one of my first experiences with large quantity cooking. The fare start kitchen puts out 1200 meals a day to various shelters and their own dining room. While this dinner for 250 was HUGE for me, it was a light lunch to them.

Amy and I had an amazing time working with a great group of people. The students were enthusiastic, energetic, and worked very hard to achive the successful evening we had. Along side the students were volunteers who give their time and experience to make these evenings happen.

I thought I'd share the photo's I took of the fun evening.

Boris, the head chef instructor, filling the giant steam kettle. This kettle must hold 8 cases of potatoes at a time, maybe more!


Me cooking the rice pudding. This is one of two giant pots made for the evening.

Amy happily working with the giant tilting skillet. She talked about this tilting skillet for weeks before the event. In fact, I might not be too far off if I say she plans her fare start menu's so she can make use of the tilting skillet.

How many pigs do you think are in here? Well, technically it's only the shoulders. Amy's braised pork was absloutely delicious and was served with country mash, braised greens, roasted pears, and a warm Neuske bacon dressing.

Me and the biggest ladle I have ever seen. What you dont see is Nance and Korina laughing at me with the big ladle. Someone likened my rice puddng to refried beans. I imagine it has something to to with the immense amount of steaming rice pudding in the pots. Russell once said something like, "bowl full of mac and cheese, good. Garbage can full of mac and cheese, gross." I think these two huge pots full to the brim diminished the appetizing quality of the pudding. So much that someone thought it looked like refried beans!


Phillip mashing potatoes. Amy, much to my delight, leaves the skins on the red potatoes for a "country" mash. The skins have all the flavor and texture in my opinion.



Phillip asks "what can brown do for me?" The UPS executives provided the dining room with waiters for the evening, and happily gave an apron to Phillip who's last name happens to be Brown.

Our very tallented volunteer Nance caramelizing the rice crispies for the dessert. Nance's years of culinary experience and friendly banter were welcomed by all. She did abandon her hat after seeing that I wasn't wearing one myself. Nance had such a distaste for this hat that I found it under a table after she left!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fare Start

Fare Start is a program many of us in Seattle (and beyond) are familiar with. This program not only feeds many disadvantaged adults, but strives to re-educate them with culinary careers. Doesn't the saying go....You can catch a man a fish and he will eat for a day, you can teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry?

The most public side of Fare Start is the guest chef dinners held on Thursdays. Leading chef's around the city donate their time and the food for the evening. They plan a 3 course menu, teach the students in the program how to prepare it, and execute the it along side them. 200 or more guests make a 20 dollar donation to the program and are treated to an inspired 3 course meal.

This coming Thursday the guest chef is Amy McCray of Eva. At her side is none other than her trusty pastry chef.....Me!!!

Our menu has been planned and we are gearing up for the fun night. We were paired with McCrea winery and have been sold out for about a month. In fact, we are over sold and are expecting 243 guests.

I am very excited to be able to participate in such an incredible program.

Nutella Nanaimo Bars



A recent post about regional food brought about a colision of thoughts. While thinking about the Nanaimo Bars I had been writing about, Russell commented that he had never tried Nutella. Why don't I pick some up when I go to the grocery store for Nanaimo Bar ingredients? Nutella, Nanaimo. Nutella, Nanaimo. Nutella Nanaimo Bars!!

The recipe lended itself perfectly to the variation. The base of this Canadian dessert is traditionally a mixture of graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and walnuts bound with an emulsion of butter, sugar, chocolate, and egg. The filling is traditionally (ugh) butter, a whole lot of powdered sugar, milk, and custard powder or vanilla pudding mix. The top layer is simply a thin spread of chocolate.

My variation substituted a cup of nutella for half of the powdered sugar, and I added roasted hazelnuts instead of the walnuts. The hazelnuts left in large chunks added texture and a delicious depth of flavor. By substituting nutella for half the sugar, the filling was not as sugary sweet, and of course, tasted of Nutella. (Who can argue with that?)

Libby remembers the pans of Nanaimo Bars my grandmother used to make often. Libby remembers hating them. But I believe this is a Nanaimo bar even Libby could love. And if Libby looks closely at the picture, she will recognize the pan as the one grandma used to make the Nanaimo bars in. The inside is a deep grid of knife grooves from years of brownie and bar cutting.

The original recipe calls for graham cracker crumbs for the crust, but any cookie crumb of good flavor will do nicely. Perhaps the McVitties Digestives? Or Sable's?

Nutella Nanaimo Bars

9 by 13 inch baking dish, buttered lightly

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 oz. dark chocolate
2 tbsp Nutella
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, beaten
2 cups fine cookie crumbs
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup roasted hazelnuts, broken into large pieces

2 tbsp instand vanilla pudding or custard powder
3 tbsp milk
1/2 cup butter, soft
1 cup nutella
1 cup powdered sugar

8 oz good chocolate

1. Cook the butter, sugar, 2 oz. chocolate, Nutella, and vanilla over a double boiler untill blended. Add the egg while stirring, and cook untill the mixture thickens a bit. This takes about 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Remove from heat, and mix in cookie crumbs, and coconut. The mixture will look a bit dry and crumbly. Evenly spread the crumbly mixture over the pan bottom. Sprinkle the hazelnuts evenly over the crumb mixture and press the mixture firmly with the back of a spoon, or the bottom of a glass. (I used the bottom of a measuring cup.) Chill for 30 minutes.

3. Cream the butter and nutella together untill smooth. Add the pudding powder and the milk to the butter and mix untill smooth. Fold in the powdered sugar, and then beat the mixture untill smooth and light.

4. Spread the nutella cream over the base evenly. Chill for 30 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and spread evenly over the nutella cream layer. (It is nice to have a thinner layer of chocolate so the teeth can break through it without expelling all the cream out the sides of the bar.)

6. Chill for 10 minutes, untill chocolate is just set. Score the chocolate in desired portions for ease in cutting later. Return to the fridge and let chocolate set up completely.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tom on TV

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief as I read Culinary Fools posting today. But there it is, the inevitable. Tom Douglas is going to be on the iron chef.

The show will air on Sunday November 6th, with a gala event held at the Pallace
Ballroom. For a mere 95 dollars you can enjoy the dishes prepared for the filmed program. The ingredient is, what else, salmon.

Do you think he'll rub-with-love his way to the winners circle??

Local Yokel

I grew up north of and still live in Seattle. My culinary education began in the pacific northwest, from a grandmother also raised in the state. It's safe to say that almost my entire life has been spent with the food of this region. My great grandma was a cattle rancher in eastern Washington, during the days when you still drove the cows through the mountains to pasture each year. My grandma Eva, her daughter, was the cook of the house, and eventually became the first college educated in the family with a degree in home economics. My youth was filled with old fashion cooking from the pacific northwest. So I can safely say I am a Local Yokel.

Recently I was invited to share my insight with a man writing a book on the subject of regional specialties. The book is titled Eat This, and will be published by HarperCollins in 2006. The Author, Ian Jackman describes his book, "It's about old-fashioned regional American food and the best stuff we can still find round the country when everywhere has the same restaurant chains and low-level paranoia about eating."

I spent the last couple of weeks grilling everyone I knew for other insight. Today I sent my list of specialties off, and thought I would share them with everyone.

Huckleberries

A regional flavor that haunts my childhood memories is that of Wild huckleberries. These dark cousins of the blueberry, also called Bilberry, have an intense flavor all their own, and great staining power. They grow wild through out eastern Washington. The only source our restaurant uses for them is a forager who will pick them while mushroom hunting. Other than that, there is a gas station in Trout Lake that sells them by the gallon that my dad likes.

My family would take a yearly camping trip the week before school started to a place on the Yakima reservation we called Huckleberry hill. There we would ride horses, run wild, and of course, pick huckleberries. The berries became breakfast every morning cooked into pancakes over the campfire. When we got home, berries in tow, jam was made, and the huckleberry pies began to come. The pie is best with a hint of lemon, cinnamon, and a binding starch to thicken the immense amount of juices the berries release. A reserve of berries was allays frozen to ensure the thanksgiving table would have a pie or two, but about half of them would end up on top of vanilla ice cream before the big day. As a pastry chef I have put them on my own dessert menu in mauve colored ice creams, cobblers, a shortcake, and my favorite, a huckleberry cheesecake topped with white chocolate. A regional specialty for these tart berries is a huckleberry buckle. My family from the east coast searches out the buckle on visits. ( I think they like the name as much as the flavor)

Nanaimo Bars

This rich dessert was made by my grandmother often as they are one of my fathers favorites. They are a chocolate and cream layer thing, not a brownie, not even baked. They originated in a town in British Columbia called Nanaimo. There they began to surface in ladies community cookbooks around 1953, and in the shops shortly after around 1955. I just saw these Canadian treats as far south as a tiny mountain coffee shop in a little town called Mill City. Mill City is where my own sweetie, Russell grew up, in the Santiam canyon on the way to Bend, Oregon. This very cute little coffee shop, Rosie's, sold the original Nanaimo bar and a peanut butter variation which I had never seen before. Further research provided many variations, all of which looked promising.


Smoked Salmon

It's no secret that the pacific northwest's coastal regions are known for the salmon that run through them. One of my first vivid child hood memories is in Seattles Ballard Locks, standing in front of the windows that expose the fish ladder watching these magnificent creatures fight their way up stream.

Each year my father and uncle would spend long weekend days fishing, and occasionally they would bring home a salmon. My father would call from the marina and my mother would set up the little chief home smoker. She would prepare a brine for the salmon that used a lot of brown sugar as I remember. The fish would spend around 4 hours out of the water before it made its way into the brine. The next day it was in the smoker on our front porch, the alder chips changed frequently by my mother. My favorite use of this was my mothers smoked salmon spread. She would mix the smoked salmon with cream cheese and a hint of horse radish, lemon juice, and chopped herbs. It was such a hit with our friends and family that one woman asked for this spread as her wedding gift!

Wapati

Wapati is the Shawnee word for the American Elk, a large greyish brown deer that roam the mountains of the pacific northwest. My dad's side of the family is largely of the Yakima Nation, and they would hunt for elk each fall. From them we would receive Elk meat. The steaks are a bit tough, but with a lot of flavor. My mom liked to use it for stew. The slaughter house my cousins took their Elk to also made Elk pepperoni sticks. My sisters and I went crazy for the elkaroni sticks!

Olympia Oysters

The Puget sound is a large oyster producing area, the favorite being the petit Olympia oyster. These silver dollar sized mollusk crops are maintained and harvested in the Hood canal, and in the Puget Sound down around Olympia. Around the Pacific Northwest these little gems turn up in oyster bars and on menus often, and are a favorite for oyster lovers.

In San Fransisco, they became part of a dish called Hangtown Fry which consists of scrambled eggs and oysters. Legend tells us it was a condemned man asking for the three most expensive things in San Fransisco to be made into his last meal. As it was the gold rush era, those ingredients were eggs, bacon, and oysters. Other stories compete for the origin of Hangtown fry, but the ingredients remain the same. I don't know that I would ever want to eat an oyster omelet

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts, or Filberts are also a large regional specialty, hailing from Oregon. My first taste of Hazelnut was not in a regional dish, but from a jar of Nutella my sister brought from Germany. Since then, this "ageless nut" as I have seen it called, has fast become one of my favorite flavors.

I have recently been introduced to very nice Hazelnuts from a farm called Holmquist Orchards. These hazelnuts have a very delicate edible skin rather than the fibrous paper that usually envelopes the nut.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hot for Teacher

As cooks move up the pecking order in the kitchen learning new skills, they quickly learn how to teach. The hole a cook leaves behind is immediatley filled with someone less experienced, and it is the ascending cooks job to train their successor. With the constant flux of cooks coming and going from kitchens, a chef can develop very efficient training methods. They learn to pass months worth of lessons to a new cook within a few days. The best of them posses the patients to let the students learn and make mistakes while holding rigid standards for them until they can carry said standards on their own.

Over the past 3 years I have been consciously developing my teaching skills along side my cheffing skills. (How'd I do David?) This winter I will be put to the test. I will be instructing not a single student in the professional skills they want and need to succeed in a job, but teaching a classroom full of amateur enthusiasts a few things to play with.

A cooking school behind the U-Village has invited me to be a guest teacher. I have two classes lined up so far. The first is later this month, and is titled "Tricks from a pro". Amy said, "Pro's, they work at golf courses, right?" I don't know that I have that many tricks up my sleeve, but I do have some insight and a few recent discoveries that I am excited to share.

The curriculum will include a tart dough that uses an old Austrian trick of hard boiling the yolks before adding them to the mix. This allows for more handling while rolling and shaping. The moisture in raw yolks reacts with the protiens in the flour and builds gluten chains while working the dough. Gluten chains may build a nice sturdy loaf of bread, but they make for a tough tart dough. This "trick" creates a melt in your mouth tenderness.

The second "trick" is a lemon curd with a variation on the texture. The curd is made by standard methods until the last step. The final step traditionally is mounting the hot curd with butter which melts in as it is stirred and leaves a translucent, thick, viscous dessert. With this method the hot curd is poured in a blender, and let to sit 5 minutes, or until the temperature drops below 140. Then the butter is added 4 pieces at a time as the blender spins. The butter doesn't separate or melt and the result is an incredible creamy opaque texture with more structure than a traditional curd.

The second class is scheduled for December. The curriculum is not set yet, but the theme is miniature desserts for your holiday party. A class about tiny cute things? I am so there.

The classes are held at Cooks World cooking school. The description of me is enough to make me blush. But this new challenge should prove exciting and a great learning experience for me.