Thursday, March 23, 2006

How the British do cheesecake

So, I don't actually know how the British do cheesecake. For all I know they could do it just like Americans, although I didn't see any cheesecake factories on my last visit. But I do know how Gordon Ramsey does cheesecake. Or did cheesecake once in a cookbook titled "A chef for all seasons". Light, lime, both unbaked and sans gelatin, this dessert is much more a mousse than cake.

The dominating flavor in this dessert is lime. Clean, bright, refreshing lime. In order to bring such a clean release of flavor to a dessert that is often intentionally (and delightfully) overly rich, this cheesecake leaves out all the eggs, and much of the sugar. Cream cheese is paddled with creme fraiche and sugar, and dosed with fresh squeezed lime juice and zest. When this mixture is smooth it is folded with whipped cream and set in molds.

Ramsey set his cheesecake over a graham cracker crust in molds lined with poached rhubarb. With the first of season rhubarb cropping up in stores, this cheesecake is a tempting reason to purchase it.

But as this has been on the menu for 3 weeks now and rhubarb is barely available, I have been serving this lime cheesecake filling differently. First, I about doubled the cream cheese to pronounce the classic cheesecake flavor and increased the lime juice to my liking. I have set the filling atop a crushed gingersnap crust, laced with citrus zest and honey. Aside the individual cheesecakes are sunny-sweet, fragrant candied kumquats and tiny gingersnaps.

As for the molds, I am using an old trick I first saw in culinary school. Instead of purchasing 50 somewhat expensive ring molds, I had a length of PVC pipe cut into 2 inch cross sections at the hard ware store. These molds have to be lined with strips of parchment or acetate as there is no way to release the contents by heating the outside. And these molds must NEVER go in the oven as they release noxious fumes and would turn what ever is in them into cancer cakes. But the cost was under 20 dollars for a total of 50 molds. You do have to find a hard ware store willing to make 50 cuts on their saw for you. Home Depot did it once, but the next time they told me I was limited to 2 cuts per visit.

Lime cheesecakes

2 cups crushed gingersnaps
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup cream fraiche
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 2 limes
2 to 4 tbsp of lime juice, to taste
1 cup cream (kept very cold to whip)

6 4-inch ring molds or an 8 inch spring form pan lined with parchment

1. Melt the butter with the honey and zests slowly. It shouldn't sizzle or heat up so the milk solids separate and cook. Let cool slightly and pour over the gingersnaps. Mix evenly with your hands, breaking up any clumps. It's best to add the butter in batches. Depending on the moisture already in the cookie, you may or may not need all the melted butter (and you may need more)

2. Distribute the crumbs evenly between the ring molds or over the bottom of the parchment lined spring form pan. Press with your hands or the smooth bottom of a glass and chill.

3. Beat the cream cheese until smooth and even (about 30 seconds to 1 minute on medium speed in a kitchen aid). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

4. Add the sugar and mix on medium for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the creme fraiche and mix until evenly combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

6. Add the lime zest and juice and mix on medium until the mixture is even and it begins to stiffen a bit.

7. Scrape the sides of the bowl so the mixture is in a mass. Place plastic wrap directly over the surface and store in the refrigerator while you whip the cream. Do not leave this for too long or it will set up stiff. You are just keeping it here to stay cool while you whip the cream.

8. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Fold half of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until just barely mixed. Fold in the remainder of whipped cream until the mixture is even.

9. Pipe or spoon the mixture into the prepared molds or cake pan. Smooth the tops with the back of a warm spoon or an off-set palate knife. Chill for 4 hours or over night.

To unmold, warm the sides of the molds or springform pan. You can do this with your blowtorch, or with a towel that has been wet with hot water and rung out.

Alternately for the crust you can also use graham cracker crumbs mixed with pinches of cinnamon, ginger, and clove to mimic the flavors in a gingersnap. Reduce the honey to 1 1/2 tbsp and add a hint of molasses.

I like to zest the limes directly over the sugar. This captures all the oils that spray out while zesting. Then I mix the zest into the sugar with my fingers which breaks it up evenly assuring there are no clumps of zest in the finished dessert.

Candied Kumquats

3 cups of kumquats, washed and sliced
2 cups sugar
1 cup water

1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil.

2. Add the kumquats and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes, undisturbed.

3. Push the kumquats back under the syrup gently, letting the bottom come to the top, and vice versa. Cook for 5 minute more.

4. Check for doneness, which will differ depending on the thickness of your slices. The skins should be translucent and it should have lost much of it's acidity. It will continue to candy away from the stove while it cools and is stored in the syrup.

5. Let cool at room temperature. Store the kumquats in their syrup, which is delicious drizzled over the plate (and mixed with a little bubbly water like a cordial.... me thinks even a granita could come from this syrup with some water adjustment)

The Kumpuat recipe isn't exact. The measures I give are guidelines. To put is as simply as possible, use a nice bowl full of kumquats, sliced up all pretty like, and a syrup in a ratio of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Chocolate for Choice

Every year as a fund raising event to help support a woman's right to choose, NARAL hosts a chocolate competition. And if we are talking about things women choose, chocolate is definitely on the list. What is more fitting than inviting Seattle's restaurants, bakeries, chocolateries, caterers, and passionate individuals to choose their favorite chocolate treat and dress it up for competition? Maybe shoes. I often choose shoes too.

The event was held at Safe-co field. Not actually on the field, but in a conference room in the building. The doors opened at 6 and people milled about, tasting, and stuffing take home boxes with their favorites. A celebrity panel of judges that included DJ Riz Rollins from KEXP, Sue McCown from Earth and Ocean, Holly Smith from Cafe Juanita, and King County Executive, the Honorable Ron Sims.

For the event I created a cake that captured what Rebekah Denn coined as my "deeper sense of Americana." It was a Peanut Butter chocolate Brownie Crunch Cake with Cocoa Nib Peanut Brittle. 7 layers make up the cake, 2 layers of brownie, 2 of milk chocolate ganache, 2 crunch layers, and a bittersweet chocolate glaze on the top. The crunch layers consisted of a salted peanut Daquoise, and a peanut butter ganache with rice crispies folded in. Unfortunately I didn't get a close up, but you can see the little flag of brittle poking out the top. The Cocoa nibs combined very well inside the peanut brittle, using a ratio of 3 parts peanut, 1 part nibs.

I can also say,with a rosy blush to my cheeks, that this cake won "Best of a restaurant; category one"

Here is Jessica from Yarrow Bay Grill's beautiful 4 layer Choctaw mousse cake. The cake to the right was donated for auction at the end of the night, but not before being mistaken for a large candy dish. Many a hand was slapped trying to sample the gold brushed hazelnuts and tiny hand rolled truffles that covered the top. This cake was deservedly the winner of "Best of a restaurant; category two"

Bakeries from around the city also participated. Below was my favorite of the evening, a bakery I discovered for the first time, North Hill Bakery. While you can see the cake looks beautiful, what you might fail to notice is the very high level of craftsmanship this cake embodies. The layers are perfectly even, the glaze is perfect, shiny and unblemished, and it tasted amazing.

Here is a Seattle favorite, Macrina featuring what looks very much like a Macrina cake. It was titled "For the love of chocolate" The glittery sugar coated fruit decorates most of their cakes, it is their signature in my mind and always reminds me of Christmas. Or more appropriately, my grandma's Christmas table. I think she has some frosted, glittery fruit left over from the 70's as a centerpiece when I was young. Obviously, this fruit is not left over from the 70's, it's quite nice actually. It's easy to do, if you are so inclined. Brush the fruit in corn syrup, cranberries and kumquats work well, and roll them in sugar and let them dry a bit.

Cupcake Royal donated these twin cupcakes, titled, "Auroelas" for auction while an assortment of their chocolate baby cakes were sampled by all. While I did take a cupcake home for my baby cake, I also stocked up on the stickers and pins with catchy phrases like, "sprinkle me bad", and "legalize frostitution".

Here is the winner in the visual category, Starry Nights catering. Their inspiration was from none other than Willie Wonka himself.

This traditional looking show piece was donated by Essential Baking Company, and served along side a banana split mousse bombe.

This show piece from Edible Art by Jim Carlin won my peoples choice vote in the visual category. It contained a huge amount of craftmanship, various mediums, and did a good job capturing the spirit of the event.

Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine

One of the most frequently asked questions of me is "what is a terrine?"

We see so many dishes labeled as terrines that it's easy to get confused. It seems to most often be associated with charcuterie or some sort, perhaps a foie gras terrine, a pate of sorts, or some kind of foreign looking meat set with meat jell-o. But it's not what is in a terrine that defines it. Rather, it is a reference to anything made in a terrine mold. Baked, set with gelatin, cold, hot, it matters not. It's the shape that the label refers to, which is much like a loaf pan.

So, yes, it's a loaf. Which is probably why we, in America, have adopted the much nicer sounding "terrine" to describe our loaf shaped creations. When ordering a terrine off a menu expect a nice slice off the described loaf.

I myself have a terrine on the menu. A Bittersweet chocolate terrine served with hazelnut praline and espresso cream. The recipe was requested by a customer a few days ago and rather than just email it to them, I thought I'd post it for all to see and email the link.

Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine
Addapted from Claudia Flemming

4-cup loaf pan lined neatly with foil
1 shallow oven proof dish

1/3 cup cream
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 shot of espresso (or 1 tbsp instant espresso dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsp hot water)
2 eggs
1 yolk
1/4 cup sugar

preheat the oven to 325

1. This might seem funny, but trust me. Place the 3 eggs (one for yolks) in a bowl and cover with hot water. They need to be warm when whipped for maximum volume.

2. Whip the cream to soft peaks and keep cold

3. Melt the chocolate and espresso over a double boiler. Let it sit undisturbed until most of the chocolate appears melted. Then stir until the mixture is even. Because of the liquid espresso, it will thicken like a ganache. Remove from the double boiler and keep in a warm place.

4. Crack the warm eggs in the bowl, separating one yolk. Add the sugar and whisk until combined. Check the temperature with your finger. If it feels cool, then warm the mixture over the same double boiler you melted the chocolate in, whisking constantly to avoid any curdling. This should only take a minute. You just want it warm to the touch, not hot.

5. Whip the eggs on high for 5 minutes, until tripled in volume.

6. Fold 1/3 of the eggs into the chocolate, mixing until even. Fold half of the remaining eggs into the chocolate until even, and again with the last half of the eggs.

7. Fold in the softly whipped cream.

8. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and cover with foil. Pierce the foil in 8 places to create steam vents.

9. Put the loaf pan into the larger pan and set on the middle rack of your preheated oven. Add hot water to the outer pan until it is half way up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

10. Remove from the oven and lift the foil to release steam. Cover with the foil and return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes more. Turn the pan so the side that was facing the front of the oven is now facing the back to ensure it cooks evenly.

11. Remove from the oven and check for doneness. It should still wiggle a little, but look set on the top. Look at the center, it shouldn't be glossy and wet looking any more. Bake in 5 minute intervals until this is achieved.

12. When done, remove the foil and take the loaf pan out of the water bath. Cool on a wire rack at room temperature for 2 hours. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator and let set over night, or for at least 4 hours.

13. To serve, lift the foil liner out of the pan. Peel the foil down carefully, just past the top of the terrine. Cover with a cutting board or plate and flip upside down. Peel the foil away and slice with a hot knife.

For the Espresso Cream

1/4 cup espresso beans
2 cups cream
powdered sugar to taste

1. Scald cream and pour over beans. Let the coffee infuse into the cream for an hour. Strain and chill the cream until very cold. Overnight is best. If I am in a hurry, I stir it over an ice bath until cold.

2. Add powdered sugar to taste and whip cream to stiff peaks

For the Hazelnut Praline

1 cup sugar
1 cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts

1. Turn the sugar into caramel. Use any method you are comfortable with, but here is my method. In a heavy bottomed pan, melt 2 tbsp sugar over high heat. When the sugar begins to take on color, stir with a heat proof spatula or wooden spoon until even. Add another 2 tbsp sugar and stir until mixed, melted, and the caramel looks amber and clear again. Continue doing this until all the sugar is mixed in and caramelized. If the sugar begins to take on too much color, remove from heat and stir in more sugar. Turn the heat down and return to the process over the heat. Make sure the sugar is dissolved before adding more.

2. When sugar reaches caramel, stir in the hazelnuts. Mix quickly, coating them evenly, and turn out onto parchment, or a silpat. Or if you don't have either, a lightly buttered pan. Let the praline cool for half an hour.

3. To crush praline, put in a large zip lock bag and break up with a rolling pin or the back of a pan. Stop when the nuts are broken and much of the sugar is crushed.

My tip on skinning hazelnuts...... toast them for 15 ot 20 minutes at 350. Here you will see them swell and crack their skins. Let them cool for about half an hour. They will shrink back to their normal size and the skins will be loose and brittle. If you try take their skins off while the nuts are warm, the skin will be too flexible, the nut to large, and the oils warm. You will end up adhering the skin to the nut and making the job harder than it is. Then to release the papery skins, rub about 10 in your hands like ball-bearings, letting the friction of the moving nuts take most of the skin off.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Best Preservation of Italian Meat and Spirit

Today marks the opening day of the second annual Indepenent Food Awards. These awards, organized by Hillel at Tasting Menu, are my kind of awards. Rather than grouping nominees into broad categories, and voting on a few preselected nominees, this award gives bloggers one award to give away. They create the award, and give it to one person, product, food stuff that they feel passionate about. I am very proud to have created the category of "Best Preservation of Italian Meat and Spirit" and given it to Pino Rogano of Seattle.

4 years ago now I had my first taste of Pino. It was a skinny, pale sausage called the Periguina, hand made by one of Seattles best kept secrets, Italian meat specialist Pino Rogano. This sausage which makes many appearances on the menu at Lampreia, is little Scott, a little Pino, and a lot of foie gras.

During that first year I spent at Lampreia, I got glimpses of Pino Rogano here and there, but never in the flesh. Instead, it was a taste of culetello, sweet and mild, shaved paper thin and served as a carpaccio. Or the coppa, rich, deep, and rubbed with a coat of spice on the exterior. Sometimes it was a thick slice of the rustic 4 inch round sausage called Cotechino, seared and dripping with flavor. Or Chingalle, a wild boar sausage, primal and linked small for an intermezzo. And of course, the Periguina. This ethereal sausage is a recipe all Carsbergs that includes veal, seasonings, and foie gras in proportions that approach 40 percent. The production of this treasure is left in the cities most capable hands, those of Pino Rogano.

This is such a temperamental sausage, what with all the foie gras, that Pino has developed a system. This involves hand stuffing each casing with a piping bag. He told me he can stuff about 8 sausages before he has to chill the entire opperation in the freezer. Otherwise that foie gras would start to melt, and the emusion of the filling would break. A labor of love, it's true. It's details like this that seperate Pino from his competition.

After working at Lampreia for a year, I heard for the first time, "Ciao, Bella!" and in walked Pino with arms full of periguina. A short, stocky man with a bushy mustache stood there, embodying italy with his thick accent and friendly manner. From then on, I unloaded all sorts of goodies from Pino's arms, always with the same greeting and a warm smile.

For years Pino could only be glimpsed here and there on menu's around the area, in the periguina at Lampreia, in a sausage at Matt's in the Market, and at a Renton restaurant he was part owner of, Restaurant da Pino. However, after selling off his interest in the restaurant, Pino has opened a tiny cafe with a retail space to sell his cured meats and sausages. Located 4 blocks south of Columbia City, the restaurant is simply, fittingly called Da Pino. An unassuming building, hardly marked by more than a sandwich board can be easy to miss. But driving up and down Ranier avenue until you find the location is well worth the effort.

Pino's wares can be sampled best off the menu in the Affettato misto della casa, described as "cold cuts Pino style." This plate offers shavings off the cured meats that dangle invitingly in the case. These same cold cuts are also sold sandwiched in a crusty roll, served with traditional accompaniments of lettuce, tomato, and mustard.

The retail selection varies from day to day, depending on what is on hand, but often features Pino's wild boar sausage and a variety of cured meats. If you are lucky enough to live in the Seattle area, a trek (pilgrimage) is in order. Otherwise, keep your eyes on menu's around the city and you too might get a glimpse of Pino.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New Additions

I tamper with my link list a fair amount, adding links I use often, and deleting them if I have stopped using them. I often do this with little fan fair, avoiding the "you're fired!" attitude of elimination, and saving you the obligation to look at the things I like to.

But I have recently added two links I feel are worth mention, both listed under the "website" section of my new and improved link list.

First is Sam Mason, NYC. A website created by Sam Mason, about Sam Mason, for you and me. It houses pictures, philosophies, histories, and all sorts of great information. For those of you who don't know yet, Sam Mason is the Pastry Chef of WD-50. His work is outstanding, succeeding where few have. He has crossed boundaries with desserts, paving the way for those willing to follow. The desserts he creates deny the sweetness that mark 99.9 percent of dessert and satisfy instead with intensity of flavor, color, life. He uses the doors opened by molecular gastronomy to create plated desserts with uncommon flavors, textures, presentations. And he uses ingredients that have been unrightly locked away in the savory kitchens stores for too many years now. I must say, the design of the sight is dead sexy too.

Second, is Seasonal Cornucopia. This website was built as an interactive tool used to find seasonal products in the Pacific Northwest. Built by a very passionate individual in the spare time between cooking in one of the Seattle area's restaurants (best known for intensely seasonal cuisine), teaching classes, private dinners, and having a life, this website is a labor of love. The user has only to type in an ingredient, be it vegetable, fish, game, cheese, and so on, and information regarding it's season, where it is found, and other helpful information pops up. It seems simple enough when navigating through the site, but when you stop to think of how one even starts to amass this vast amount of information, you realize how amazing it is that this page exists. It is not a marketing tool, rather one persons gift to the culinary world.

the early bird

It's 7:30 in the morning and I am off to work. This can only mean one thing...... 25 for 25 has begun.

The memory of the frenzy that took over durring novembers 25 for 25 is like a freshly healed wound. While the sting is gone, a dull ache persists when I think of a particular tuesday last november. This ache drives me on to prep obsessively, pour over the menu making lists of menu components, mise en place, prep lists, lists of lists to make.

I am not sure how the 25 for 25 effects bigger kitchens. But as the kitchen at Eva stands, it is a small crew. The pastry department is smaller, just me. While others will plate the desserts on the pantry station, the entire production is left up to one person. And this promotion takes a fairly steady 35 to 38 percent dessert sales and sends it up around 100 percent. In addition, this promotion also raises the number of guests from a weekday/sunday average of 30 to 40 guests a night up near 100 guests a night.

Meaning, the guest count jumps from 200 to 500. If 500 people come in this week, (barring friday and saturday) I have to put out 500 desserts rather than 175 to 200. Which is of course a challenge I am not going to shy away from. But it's enough to wake me from my morning slumber and get me out the door early.

Did I mention it's my day off?